From Cherries To Tips, How Do You Think About Math?

Have you ever just stopped to think about how you use math in your life every day? I’ve been doing this a lot lately. It started last weekend, on the same day that I posted this tweet.

My step-dad has often said, “Too many cherries angry up your tummy,” and this statement has stuck with me. As such, every time I have cherries, I tend to think about the number that I’m eating. During this past school year, when my teaching partner and I spent more time focusing on subitizing, I found myself trying to subitize to figure out the number of cherries I selected in a handful. I’ll admit that along with subitizing, I often had a few wonders running through my head.

  • Will I always grab approximately the same number of cherries?
  • Is it possible to grab more than 10?
  • How might my handful compare to a child’s handful?
  • How might my handful compare to another adult’s handful? Are most adult handfuls around the same size?
  • What might all of this information mean when it comes to understanding and applying non-standard measurement?

I kind of love how something as simple as grabbing a bunch of cherries can have me thinking about and using math.

It was actually later on last Sunday when I found myself thinking about math again. I went out for dinner on Sunday night with a friend. Both of us were paying cash for our meals, and I was working out the tip. I usually leave around 25%, and I do so, because I have a quick way of figuring out this amount. I just divide the total of the bill in half, and then in half again. I shared this little tidbit with my teacher friend, as she was also working out her tip. Not only does this kind of math help me keep my mental math skills sharp — yes, at times, computations matter — but it also helps me do some thinking about these number amounts. 

  • What if the service was incredible? How might I adjust this total to closer to 30%?
  • Or what if the service was not as good as usual? How might I easily figure out 20% instead?
  • What role does rounding play?
  • How do I use anchors of 5 and 10 to help me out?

Yes, I’m “such a teacher,” but I do appreciate authentic reasons to engage in math thinking and learning. I thought of that especially this week when working with one of our Camp Power campers. I was walking up the hallway just before lunchtime, and I heard this camper coming out of his classroom. He slammed the door shut and started to scream. I walked over to him and quietly said, “You seem really angry. Do you want to come and sit with me for a little while?” He replied, “I don’t want to talk!” I said, “We don’t need to. We can just sit.” And so we did. It didn’t take long though before he started to talk.

His story began with, “We shouldn’t be doing math at camp. We didn’t do it last year. Why are we doing it now? I don’t want to do math.” Interesting. I remembered this camper from last year, and I replied, “Didn’t you use Dash, the robot, last year?” He was quick to confirm that he did. So quietly I said, “Well then, you actually did do math. You figured out the length that it could travel straight down the maze before it needed to turn. You figured out the angle of the turn. You learned how bigger and smaller numbers changed the size of the angle. You did a lot of math!” This stopped him for a minute. Then he replied, “Well nobody ever told me that was math. That math wasn’t on a sheet. I didn’t need a pencil for that math.” Hmmm …

In Kindergarten, we focus on noticing and naming the math behaviours that we see through play. This is how we develop mathematical vocabulary, as well as problem solving, thinking, and understanding. Talking with this camper recently and considering my own authentic math opportunities, I’m more convinced than ever that this Kindergarten approach to math has value well beyond the early years. Thinking about what this child said to me, what are we — even unknowingly — communicating about math based on the choices that we make for how to explore mathematical concepts? Is this what we want to communicate, and if not, how might we change this message?

I can’t help but reflect on this Twitter discussion from the other night.

If we think about the math that kids remember and the math that they apply, are we doing enough of this kind of math, and if not, is it time to change? One day, I want my previous students to be thinking about math in their lives as I do, and hopefully seeing it in a positive light. Before we head back to school, I wonder if it’s time to do some more math thinking of our own.


2 thoughts on “From Cherries To Tips, How Do You Think About Math?

  1. As I sit here at the cottage, also thinking about math and play… and ha omg just finished the Virtual Math Summitt by Christina Tondevold (Building Math Minds), I find myself going back to my wondering of the past couple of years… are we doing enough to NAME the Learning WITH our kids? I feel we are getting better at naming and noticing the learning within play for documentation, reporting, conversations with colleagues and parent purposes, but not so much WITH AND FOR KIDS. My conversations with grade ones around what they learned in Kindergarten have started my thinking along these lines when they answer ‘we didn’t learn, we just played’. I’ve been seeing how kinders have been struggling even more with the transition to grade 1 since FDK was introduced and wondering how we can bridge the gap. As I continue to move towards more and more play based learning in my grade 1 class I’m going to work hard on this concept about being transparent with my kids about what they are learning through their play and how what they are doing connects to our learning goals and criteria and see if that makes a difference. I thinks there’s lots more that we can do to highlight the learning!

    • Joanne, I think you make a great point about naming the learning WITH AND FOR our kids. I can’t speak to what others do, but I can say, that we are big at giving our kids this mathematical vocabulary, following up with questions to extend the math thinking/learning, and listening for them to use this mathematical vocabulary and further share their math thinking and learning through play. I would hope that this extends to the kinds of discussions and work that they do in their Grade 1 class this upcoming year, but even after their visit to Grade 1, I heard some of them talking about doing “real math next year.” What’s “real math?,” I asked. They told me it was math in a notebook, or with a pencil, or for homework. I tried to highlight the “real math” that we did all year through play, and kids recognized this math, but saw it as different than other math. Why? Is math on paper always better? Could this play-based math extend beyond Kindergarten? It’s interesting to me how powerful this “image of real math” seems to be. Thanks for continuing this important discussion!


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